In my 3rd year of my English Literature degree, I took a class about Renaissance/Early Modern literature and poetry. Part of the requirements for the latter half of the degree was that we take at least 1 subject that covered pre-1800s literature, so I decided to do mine in the first semester of that year. A few of my friends were there with me, which made the class a lot more fun.
In the first two weeks, to our great disappointment, we found we were going to be studying the same Shakespeare sonnet for two weeks in a row. Sonnet 130 is a lovely sonnet, don’t get me wrong, but having to closely analyse it for an entire fortnight wore out its welcome pretty quickly. The four of us sat in a booth at the Starbucks near our campus (a sad state of our times where I’m feeling slightly nostalgic for spending time in a Starbucks), having to study one short poem for two weeks straight. Usually, we would have a text per week, even when we were studying novels. What was our course convenor thinking? So, to make the best out of a less than ideal situation, I proposed the idea of playing mad-libs with the sonnet.
Mad-libs is a game where you have an extract of something but some of the words are taken out that the players must fill in with a different word. Once you have replaced these words with your own, you read aloud what you have created and have a good laugh. We used that sonnet three times, once to replace the nouns, once to replace the verbs and once to replace the adjectives. I read aloud what we had made, and we chortled into our coffees. We decided we’d make it a weekly thing to encourage each other to actually do the reading.
I had what I thought was a wise idea in starting an accompanying blog series and putting it up on my website. If you’ve read my personal blog over the past few years, you will probably have seen the posts floating around my social media and puzzled over why I decided to start this blog series. If you decided to read it, that confusion would have only intensified. I blogged with a weekly deadline for the first time and I managed to keep up that schedule for six weeks or so. By the time I got to the seventh week, my deadlines had finally gotten on top of me and I was defeated. Around then my assignments were handed in, so I decided it was best to abort the series. I didn’t see the point of keeping up these posts when I wasn’t all that proud of them. All that remains of them were the photos that accompanied them, including a flattering shot of David Tennant playing Richard II and Shia LaBeouf during his classic ‘Just do it’ monologue. They would appear in the Images result when you search for my name, and it will lead nowhere, lingering just to confuse whichever hapless viewer comes across it.
Oh well! I must admit that I had a lot of fun with this project, even as the university deadlines got tighter and more stressful. It helped bring my friendship group together and made our studying time that bit more enjoyable. Not long after our last ever Early Modern Lit seminar, the four of us attended a pub quiz at the student union. We got drunk and headed back to my house. During that time we played our final game of Mad-libs. We made two pieces: one based upon Iago’s monologue from Shakespeare’s Othello, and a monologue from Websters’ The Duchess of Malfi. Our friend Amy adores Shakespeare and her favourite character is Iago, so we got a video of her reading the first monologue. Then I read The Duchess of Malfi monologue. Now this wasn’t the last class, as our last week was spent studying Thomas More’s Utopia. To put it this way, it wasn’t a very heavenly read but I had a fun idea of creating a cento with line and page numbers. However, I knew that that night was the moment to let go of the project. I wanted our collaboration to end on a high, and Amy’s rendition of our warped Iago monologue was just the note to finish on. After we were done, we talked all night long. We talked about our lives, our loves, our secrets and bonded over these until 10am! It was, safe to say, my first successful all-nighter.
As much as the accompanying blog series was mediocre and obtuse, and a bit of a failure if I’m honest, the overall project was definitely not. Early Modern Mad-libs was about making our studying more fun, bringing people joy and having fun with my friends. I’m working on putting them together as a chapbook or a zine to share with the group, and the guests who came along to hang out with us at Starbucks. It’ll be an interesting memento for us to look back on when we graduate, and hopefully we will create many more happy memories in the years to come.
I’m a writer from Ayrshire and an English Literature and Film & TV Studies student at University of Glasgow. I have been performing my work for four years and has been co-hosting open mic night, Words and Music, with Gayle Smith for two years. My poetry chapbook ‘Keep On Spinning’, is available to buy from my website jenhugheswriter.com/shop.
I’m thinking of creating a writing challenge based on what I learned on my Early Modern Literature and/or recreate the mad-libs experience for other people, but I am still working on it to make sure it’s the best it can be. Stay tuned on that front. If you’re interested in taking part in this or talk about literature, get in touch with me through my social media: